This is a continuation of the list of posts that examine the parallels between tobacco, alcohol, and the overconsumption of food, to see what concepts might be usefully transferred from one problem to another; with the main ideas spotlighted and some new material here and there.
In John McCrae’s iconic World War I poem, “In Flanders Fields,” we see the line, “To you from failing hands we throw the torch…” In other words, because the speaker in the poem and millions of fellow soldiers have died, it is up to the next generation to step up and take their places.
The tobacco industry carries out a sick parody of that sentiment. To maintain its current profitability, Big Tobacco needs to pull 1,300 Americans, each and every day, into the horde of nicotine-dependent zombies. The business has a name for these newly-inducted supporters, who are known as “replacement smokers.” Whom do they replace? The 1,300 people who die every day from tobacco-related disease processes.
Speaking of the military, our country’s armed forces have always cooperated with the distribution of cigarettes to the troops, at home and abroad. Soldiers, sailors and especially Marines (who smoke a lot) get their fix at reduced prices, and often for free. Quite recently, the Department of Defense surveyed military smokers, and found that nearly 40 percent of them took up the habit after signing on Uncle Sam’s dotted line.
What’s in it for the industry? Glad you asked. Even if a servicemember only enlists for a four-year hitch, by the time he or she is discharged, there is a pretty good chance the person will be hooked on nicotine for life.
Just to mention one obvious parallel, the Pentagon could never encourage overeating to such an extent — especially when the military preparedness of America’s youth is already in such abysmal shape. A recent Council for a Strong America report confirmed that “nearly one-third of 17-to-24-year olds are too overweight to qualify for military service.” For the armed services to promote junk food and overeating to the same extent it promotes smoking, would be insane.
Agencies are tasked with creating public service campaigns to influence the young. When it comes to tobacco avoidance, their work is already half done for them, because it is not so very hard to depict smokers as pathetic losers. Smokers are unlikely to fight back against negative characterizations, because they know in their hearts that allegations against their deadly habit are not open to dispute.
People who are overweight or obese, however, tend to bristle when faced with unfavorable publicity. They resent being pointed to as bad examples, a judgment that smokers are more inclined to hang their heads and accept. And when it comes to influencing kids, the idea that “Smoking isn’t cool” is much easier to sell than “Overeating isn’t cool.”
The film industry tried valiantly to reduce the amount of onscreen smoking, with equivocal results. Imagine how hard it would be to reduce the depiction of eating. There can be a rule to ban smoking from movies or TV shows, but can there be a rule to ban visual representations of of snacking? When another film is made about King Henry VIII, will it have to leave out all the banquet hall scenes?
Your responses and feedback are welcome!